‘Never trust anyone over 30.’
That phrase from the 1960s was the headline of an article I had written many moons ago, in another avatar.
I stumbled on it again recently, while indulging in some ego surfing on Google.
It essentially argued that instead of just being apathetic towards politics and politicians, the youth of our country should step up to the plate. That a young nation should not be led by old people. That there should be a retirement age for politicians.
Let me rewind a little. When I joined a newly-launched newspaper in Calcutta two decades ago, it was because I wanted to. I did so because I thought I could make a difference. Brought up on Mad Magazine's irreverent attitude towards everything, (before it too sold out and accepted advertisements) I believed that independent journalism existed.
Until another youngster, fired with similar idealism, joined the paper as a reporter. Within a month, he put together a story which clearly and comprehensively proved that a powerful local politician was involved in gambling and prostitution.
His triumphant grin, however, faded forever when the editor called him into his cabin. "It's a terrific story. But we have a problem," he was told. "The politician you refer to is the head of the local business community, which gives us a massive chunk of advertisements throughout the year. Once this story runs, that revenue will dry up."
"Therefore," the ed continued, "I would be happy to run the story, but only if you can get all your colleagues to agree to a sizeable reduction in salaries to offset this loss of revenue."
Knowing he was beaten, the youngster quit and took the story to a rival newspaper, only to be rudely brushed off again. His article was finally published in a Hindi rag called Sayta Kahani, which had a meagre circulation and shut shop soon after. We then heard that he had joined the Naxal Movement.
(Today, an Indian management institute runs hundreds of full-page advertisements across the national and many regional dailies. Its advertising budget rivals that of many true-blue MNCs. The payoff? Not one article which critically examines the institute's credentials.)
Independent journalism? What’s that?
Years later, during which I moved to Delhi and then Mumbai, I was told that the young man had been crippled by a police bullet during some agitation or the other. And that the Naxals too had disowned him for protesting against the corrupt practices of some leaders. No one really knew where he was, or even whether he was dead or alive.
So what’s all this got to do with youngsters and politics?
Lots. Because the young man’s basic fault was that he was young, idealistic, and perhaps hopelessly naÃ¯ve.
And right now, our nation urgently needs a very strong dose of all three. Not just in politics, but also in the media and the defence forces.
We are a young nation. But our leadership is not.
Idealism? That probably went out with our Freedom Fighters. (Today, we are all Freedom Fighters: we fight for anything that’s free)
And to me, naivety - however hopeless - is always preferable to the cynical pessimism and apathy which pervades our society and prevents us, particularly the older generation, from standing up for a cause, from doing what is right.
Target the young. That was what we were taught in journalism school 20 years ago, and that age-old mantra still reverberates loudly in the corridors of media and marketing houses across the world. Obscene sums of money are spent in studying the buying, eating and mating habits of the 18 to 35 year-old (give or take a few years either side) segment of society.
The result: The continuous and appalling dumbing down of the media, the lack of intelligent discourse. Page 3 rules. Yes, sex and sports sell, and always will. But are they the only things that have traction among today’s youngsters? I suspect not. But obviously our media barons believe otherwise. Only the young can prove them wrong. Only the young can bring independence back into journalism.
As for the forces, our nation faces a horde of security issues which need urgent attention. Pakistan, China, the Maoists, the Bangladeshi threat, Jihadi terror, both external and internal, the unrest in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. Then there’s hunger, energy, and the environment. At a time like this, we desperately need young, educated and inspired officers to join the forces, to help formulate fresh, innovative strategies to counter these threats. But precisely the opposite is happening: some reports say we are losing officers at the rate of five a day. Defending your nation is no longer fashionable, unless it is on the cricket field.
Politically, most of the youngsters being promoted as the leaders of tomorrow are the sons and daughters of today’s politicians. Should leadership be a family business? Should we continue to let our corpulent and corrupt leaders and their offspring divide, woo and loot us on the basis of caste, of religion? Should we not rage against the aging goons who profess to be patriots, who insist that only they deserve our votes? Or should we just turn our face, and pretend that it is somebody else’s problem? Do our youngsters need to turn into Naxals to change the system?
I have aged since I wrote that piece mentioned in the beginning, and unlike Peter Pan and another old man named Bob Dylan, it is difficult to be “younger than that now.” I usually console myself by extolling the virtues of age and experience, and with wry statements like “Once I was young and handsome, now I am only handsome.”
But deep down, I know that to truly shine, our country needs a large transfusion of young blood.
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The author is the Chief Editor of Sify.com